84th AMS Annual Meeting

Monday, 12 January 2004: 9:30 AM
Twenty-five years of progress: A look back at forecasting the “Blizzard of ‘78” and a comparison with current operational capabilities.
Room 617
Bradley R. Colman, NOAA/NWS, Seattle, WA; and F. P. Colby Jr.
Fred Sanders debated others for years on the fundamental processes and numerical tools necessary to correctly capture explosive marine cyclogenesis. He also admired a dramatic storm and the value of a good forecast; both of which occurred on 6/7 February 1978 when three to four feet of snow paralyzed New England. It just happens 1977/78 was my first winter at MIT and still vivid in my mind are images of cars drifted over with only their antennas sticking up through the snow and the week-long quiet of an automobile-less Boston.

At the time of the blizzard, operational full-physics numerical models had only been around a bit more than a decade and were just making their mark on weather forecasting. The 7-layer PE model, which was being run to 36 hours, had just been replaced one month earlier with the 7-layer PE (fine mesh) with runs to 84 hours and a barotropic extension to 144 hours. The Limited Fine Mesh model was also being run to 48 hours. Even with what would now be considered truly primitive forecast models, the forecasters had been talking of the threat of a big storm for nearly a week.

A lot has happened in operational weather forecasting in the past 25 years. This presentation will contrast our current capabilities with the forecast process that resulted in the early watches and ultimate warnings for one of the greatest storms ever to strike New England. Comparisons of various tools, including satellite data, observations, and modeling will illustrate just how far we have come in the past 25 years. Efforts will also be made to contrast the warning and community emergency response capabilities and realities

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